## Reprocessing of Spent Nuclear Fuel

I hear a lot of talk about the law from teh 70's passed by Congress that forbade the reprocessing of commercial SNF. In my Radioactive Waste Management class today, the professor (who is a CHP/PE who specializes in waste management) said it was actually Carter, not Congress (which means, I assume, it was an Excutive Order), but Reagan lifted the ban later on. There are, of course treaties such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and perhaps others that aim to curtial the plutonium accessible for possible terrorism, etc.) He was pretty sure that reprocessing was allowable even by treaty as long as the site allowed independent inspection by the IAEA.

My question is whether this is still a law that is active, if so, what is the name of this law/act, and the specifics of the law (links are helpful here). I ask because for another class, we are doing research into the molten salt reactors. For my group, we are considering the online reprocessing possibility, including (but not limited to) the legal aspects of online reprocessing, so i need to look up this info. I can't seem to find any evidence for such a law on web searches, but since it has been mentioned numerous times, I need to find out the facts.

There are references to Jimmy Carter's (April) 1977 executive order in which he apparently suspended reprocessing of SNF, but after some research, I cannot find such an EO. There was only one in April of 1977 - EO 11982 - Committee on Selection of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Perhaps Carter announced in April the intent to suspend reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (SNF).

I believe the suspension of reprocessing was in the Department of Energy Organization Act, PL 95-91, signed 8/4/77, which may be confused with Reorganization Act of 1977, PL 95-17, signed 4/6/77, the latter being reorganization of the Executive Office of the President.

http://www.stanfordreview.org/Archiv...pinions3.shtml

Nuclear Industry Supports Reprocessing Research But Foresees Long Road to Implementation

 WASHINGTON—The nuclear energy industry supports continued research into more efficient and proliferation-resistant technologies to reprocess used nuclear fuel. But the industry sees significant challenges – economic and otherwise – to overcome before reprocessing can be developed in the United States, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s chief nuclear officer, Marvin Fertel, told a congressional panel today. . . . . He noted that reprocessing has not been employed in the United States for more than 20 years. The technology was banned by President Carter due to proliferation concerns. President Reagan lifted the ban, and President Clinton later reinstituted it.

The Separations Technology and Transmutation Systems (STATS) Report: Implications for Nuclear Power Growth and Energy Sufficiency
http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA396.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontl...gs/rossin.html
 3. THE CARTER POLICY On April 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would defer indefinitely the reprocessing of spent nuclear reactor fuel. He stated that after extensive examination of the issues, he had reached the conclusion that this action was necessary to reduce the serious threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, and that by setting this example, the U. S. would encourage other nations to follow its lead. President Carter's Executive Order also announced that the U. S. would sponsor an international examination of alternative fuel cycles, seeking to identify approaches which would allow nuclear power to continue without adding to the risk of nuclear proliferation. More than thirty nations participated over almost three years. But no new magic answer could be found.
 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor Staff Emeritus Carter's policy was a failure in several respects. Carter wanted the US to "show the example" by not using spend fuel reprocessing, with the hope that other nations would follow that example and not reprocess. But that clearly didn't work out as the French and the British have set up a reprocessing plant (Sellafield and La Hague). As such, the idea that if the US doesn't devellop fuel reprocessing, the technology will not be industrially available, failed. But the second error in Carter's policy was that reprocessing of spend fuel in LWR is by itself not much of a proliferation issue, because the plutonium one gets out of it isn't really weapon-grade quality if the burnup is high. Now, there are discussions of whether it is possible or not to build a badly working weapen anyhow with this plutonium, but as most of this is classified information I guess it is hard to know. It is a bit funny that a nation who had a huge stockpile of weapongrade plutonium for military purposes was being affraid that non-military grade plutonium might somehow be stolen... In the mean time, the PUREX process is not really a big secret, and everyone who really wants to build a reprocessing plant can do so with enough \$. The extracted plutonium from PWR spend fuel is probably not good enough to make a good working nuclear weapon, but at least if you extract it, you can control it ; if you leave the spend fuel "as is", anybody can come and mine the plutonium. So I find it a huge pity that advances in the fuel cycle are being blocked with silly considerations of non-proliferation, based upon the erroneous idea that somehow it is easier for someone to make a nuclear weapon by stealing bad quality plutonium from a country that has reprocessing capabilities and try to make a working weapon out of that (which is way more difficult), than to make weapon-grade plutonium oneself using a good old graphite/natural uranium reactor and some tri-butyl phosphate. Now maybe I have some misconceptions on the issue, in which case I would like to be enlightened.

## Reprocessing of Spent Nuclear Fuel

 because the plutonium one gets out of it isn't really weapon-grade quality if the burnup is high. Now, there are discussions of whether it is possible or not to build a badly working weapon anyhow with this plutonium
For high burnup fuel, that would be more or less true, but one could build a weapon with the Pu. The problem however would be the radiation which would injure the workers and damage components, but then some groups don't worry about such matters. It certainly would be much easier to detect.

There are ways to optimize the conversion of U to Pu (239) with low levels of Pu-241 and heavier nuclides, but that's something not to be shared.

Controls on SNM are fairly strict, so proliferation from the US is not the problem. As one indicated, Carter wanted to set an example for other countries to follow, but it was rather misguided, and certainly France, Britain, Russia and Japan have reprocessing capability. India and Pakistan (A. Q. Khan) also have that capability.

Recognitions:
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Staff Emeritus
 Quote by Astronuc For high burnup fuel, that would be more or less true, but one could build a weapon with the Pu. The problem however would be the radiation which would injure the workers and damage components, but then some groups don't worry about such matters. It certainly would be much easier to detect.
I think that this is indeed a silly argument: if you set out to build a nuclear weapon, surely you're able to devise some radioprotection! The point is that "polluted" Pu (that means, anything else than Pu-239) needs first of all a much higher mass to build a weapon from, and "pre-ignites" too easily. So the building of the weapon itself is much harder with "bad" Pu than with weapon grade Pu ; I don't even know (and will probably never find out) whether it is feasible or not. As such, for some organization which has the technical ability to do all that, it would be no problem for them to:
1) have radioprotection (or suicide fools who don't mind)
2) make weapon grade plutonium themselves using "standard" techniques, not having to rely on stolen spend fuel.

 There are ways to optimize the conversion of U to Pu (239) with low levels of Pu-241 and heavier nuclides, but that's something to be shared.
Sure: a good old graphite reactor with continuous fueling does that very well...
That's how the first weapons were made anyhow.

 Quote by vanesch I think that this is indeed a silly argument: if you set out to build a nuclear weapon, surely you're able to devise some radioprotection! The point is that "polluted" Pu (that means, anything else than Pu-239) needs first of all a much higher mass to build a weapon from, and "pre-ignites" too easily. So the building of the weapon itself is much harder with "bad" Pu than with weapon grade Pu ; I don't even know (and will probably never find out) whether it is feasible or not. As such, for some organization which has the technical ability to do all that, it would be no problem for them to: 1) have radioprotection (or suicide fools who don't mind) 2) make weapon grade plutonium themselves using "standard" techniques, not having to rely on stolen spend fuel.
Nuclear weapons are not pure Pu239, but certainly one would wish to minimize the other isotopes.

A weapons designer wishes to minimize mass, which is not an important consideration for some people.

 Sure: a good old graphite reactor with continuous fueling does that very well... That's how the first weapons were made anyhow.
I was thinking in the context of an LWR. A graphite reactor would be quite obvious.

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Gold Member
Staff Emeritus
 Quote by Astronuc Nuclear weapons are not pure Pu239, but certainly one would wish to minimize the other isotopes. A weapons designer wishes to minimize mass, which is not an important consideration for some people.
I don't know much about all this, but it was my understanding that polluted plutonium is difficult, not really because of the extra mass, but rather because the implosion requirements are much more difficult to achieve: you have more absorption and less fission cross section, and you have more spontaneous fission. All this means that the power increase is slower during the implosion, and hence that you pre-ignite much easier.
If you master all this technology, then surely you can master a graphite/natural uranium reactor.

Point is, I find it a silly argument in several Western countries to refrain from having fuel reprocessing in the nuclear power sector simply because of proliferation issues. People (terrorists, a gouvernment, country...) who have decided to make a nuclear weapon will not make use of the fuel cycle in another country to do so. I don't think the North-Coreans tried to steal plutonium from La Hague to make their bombs. India and Pakistan didn't base their (initially forbidden) nuclear weapon program on stolen plutonium.
The main pathways to a nuclear weapon are not the fuel cycle of another country.

If one wants a clandestine operation one would probably want an LWR rather than graphite reactor, which have their own issues.

 The main pathways to a nuclear weapon are not the fuel cycle of another country.
True! None of the nuclear weapons programs have utilitize foreign Pu.

Carter was simply trying to set an example, which was absurd and ill-conceived. Those who want a nuclear weapons program will ignore any such example.

Recognitions:
 Quote by daveb I hear a lot of talk about the law from teh 70's passed by Congress that forbade the reprocessing of commercial SNF. In my Radioactive Waste Management class today, the professor (who is a CHP/PE who specializes in waste management) said it was actually Carter, not Congress (which means, I assume, it was an Excutive Order), but Reagan lifted the ban later on.
daveb,

WRONG!!!! Reagan couldn't unilaterally lift the ban because it was NOT an Executive Order
of Carter. [ For Pete's sake, why did your Professor completely fabricate the claim that Reagan
lifted the ban? ]

It was a LAW passed by Congress, it was called the "Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978".

It was signed by Carter, but is a Act of Congress, i.e. a LAW and can NOT be repealed by order
of the President; and remains in effect.

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=30475

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

Recognitions:
 Quote by Astronuc For high burnup fuel, that would be more or less true, but one could build a weapon with the Pu. The problem however would be the radiation which would injure the workers and damage components, but then some groups don't worry about such matters.
Astronuc,

The issue with high burnup fuel is that with higher burnups you get more of the even numbered
Plutonium isotopes; Pu-240 and Pu-242. These isotopes spontaneously fission.

The spontaneous fission means that you will have a higher neutron background, and that means
the weapon assembly has to be faster; otherwise the weapon will fizzle.

Los Alamos had originally intended to use gun-assembly for the Plutonium bomb, just as they
were planning with the Little Boy uranium bomb. However, when they got macroscopic quantities
of Plutonium; they discovered that it was infeasible to assemble a Plutonium device with a gun
method.

The problem of using Plutonium was solved by using an implosion method originally suggested by
Seth Neddermeyer, and developed and improved by George Kistiakowsky. The implosion method is
more complicated than gun assembly. Even then, a high neutron background also complicates assembly
method; even when implosion is used.

http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/design.htm

"Because of the short time interval between spontaneous neutron emissions (and, therefore, the large number
of background neutrons) found in plutonium because of the decay by spontaneous fission of the isotope Pu-240,
Manhattan Project scientists devised the implosion method of assembly in which high explosives are arranged
to form an imploding shock wave which compresses the fissile material to supercriticality."

These high A Plutonium isotopes are alpha-emitters; so it is TRIVIAL to shield the direct decay products.
However, with spontaneous fission; you get gammas from the fission reaction, and the fission products.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

Recognitions:
Gold Member
Staff Emeritus
From the Carter link by Morbius:

 In conclusion, I am persuaded that the new criteria, incentives, and procedures in this act will help solve the problems of proliferation. They will help to ensure that access to nuclear energy will not be accompanied by the spread of nuclear explosive capability. While I recognize that some of these provisions may involve adjustments by our friends abroad, this more comprehensive policy will greatly increase international security. I believe that they will ultimately join us in our belief that improved world security justifies the steps which we all must take to bring it about. Control over the spread of nuclear weapons on our planet is one of the paramount questions of our time.
That was the silly part of it...
 Admin Carter was naive. He should have discussed it with the British and French before making a unilateral decision. Hopefully someone would have asked for his rationale.

Recognitions:
 Quote by Astronuc Carter was naive. He should have discussed it with the British and French before making a unilateral decision. Hopefully someone would have asked for his rationale.
Astronuc,

Actually Carter DID discuss this issue with the British and the French. Early in his Administration,
Carter called for an international study of the nuclear fuel cycle by the USA, Great Britain, France,
and the Soviet Union. It was called INFCE - the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation program;
and ran from 1977 to 1980.

From the outset of INFCE it was clear that Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union were going to
to keep reprocessing nuclear fuel according to the USA's representative; former Professor of
Nuclear Engineering, Dr. Albert Carnesale [ who recently retired as Chancellor of UCLA ] as he explained
when he gave a seminar at MIT when I was a graduate student there.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 was Carter's response - an attempt to FORCE
Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union into giving up reprocessing. How the USA doing
something unilaterally forces the hand of other countries; I don't understand. But that was Carter's
"logic" [ if you can call it that ].

One of the "take-away" points I remember coming away from Dr. Carnesale's seminar was that
Carter had his mind made up; and it didn't matter what he [ Dr. Carnesale ] or any of the other
members of the INFCE partnership said; Carter wanted a world free of nuclear fuel reprocessing.

Yes - Carter was GROSSLY NAIVE, and saddled the USA was with the terrible policy of a
"once through" fuel cycle for our commercial fleet of nuclear power plants.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

 Quote by Morbius daveb, WRONG!!!! Reagan couldn't unilaterally lift the ban because it was NOT an Executive Order of Carter. [ For Pete's sake, why did your Professor completely fabricate the claim that Reagan lifted the ban? ] It was a LAW passed by Congress, it was called the "Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978". It was signed by Carter, but is a Act of Congress, i.e. a LAW and can NOT be repealed by order of the President; and remains in effect. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=30475 Dr. Gregory Greenman Physicist
According to both Wikipedia (which is not very accurate at times and should be taken with a grain of salt), and this http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RS22542.pdf site, the NNPA had nothing to do with commercial reprocessing of fuel in the US, and it was a withdrawal of federal support for reprocessing that stopped it. Then later Reagan did lift the ban. I found a partial text of the NNPS here http://www.nti.org/db/china/engdocs/nnpa1978.htm and it mentions nothing about banning domestic reprocessing. Do you by chance have a link to the actual text of that law that mentions it? The link to Carter's statement you provided doesn't specifically state the ban.

Recognitions:
 Quote by daveb According to both Wikipedia (which is not very accurate at times and should be taken with a grain of salt), and this http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RS22542.pdf site, the NNPA had nothing to do with commercial reprocessing of fuel in the US, and it was a withdrawal of federal support for reprocessing that stopped it. Then later Reagan did lift the ban. I found a partial text of the NNPS here http://www.nti.org/db/china/engdocs/nnpa1978.htm and it mentions nothing about banning domestic reprocessing. Do you by chance have a link to the actual text of that law that mentions it? The link to Carter's statement you provided doesn't specifically state the ban.
daveb,

I have not found a link to the text of the NNPA. However, it DOES BAN all reprocessing in the
Unitied States.

The CRS paper you refer to above only deals with the foreign policy part of the NNPA; NOT the
domestic part.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 modified certain sections of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954;
and THAT's where you will find the explicit ban on fuel reprocessing.

In the USA, commercial reprocessing was about to go forward in the early '70s. However, a federal
Court decision blocked the licensing of commercial reprocessing because the newly [ 1970 ] enacted
Environmental Protection Act requires an environmental impact statement in order for the NRC to
issue a license to a commercial reprocessing operation.

So the Nuclear Regulatory Commission drafted the GESMO - the Generic Environmental Statement
on Mixed Oxide [ mixed oxide is the reprocessed fuel that is the product of reprocessing and which
is recycled back to the reactors. ].

With the GESMO in hand, the NRC was all set to license reprocessing facilities - then Congress
out-right BANNED reprocessing in 1978 with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy Act of 1978.

http://www.wise-paris.org/index.html...rame/band.html

In the 1970s the Atomic Energy Commission, a forerunner of DOE, produced desk studies on plutonium fuel use,
the most prominent of which was the Generic Environmental Statement on Use of Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) in
Light Water Reactors (GESMO) issued in 1976. The GESMO project was terminated in 1979 following the national
policy decision not to use MOX plutonium fuels. A completed commercial scale reprocessing plant at Barnwell,
South Carolina, was mothballed at the same time.

The USA had a COMPLETED commercial reprocessing plants at Morris, Il and Barnwell, SC which had to be mothballed
because reprocessing was banned.

Reprocessing / recycling of nuclear fuel would solve so many problems - it reduces the lifetime of
nuclear waste, it provides more cost-effective fuel as opposed to freshly enriched uranium....
The nuclear industry would be reprocessing in a heartbeat if Reagan had lifted the ban.

Alas, Reagan DID NOT lift the ban - because the ban was codified in LAW.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

Ok, now I'm confused. This site http://www.princeton.edu/~globsec/pu...ev293n5539.pdf says what I had previously stated and quoted, but says the reason reprocessing didn't start up was economic, not political.

 The reassessment initiated by the Ford administration was completed by the Carter administration, which decided in 1977 against licensing for operation a newly built U.S. commercial reprocessing plant. The U.S. nuclear-energy establishment complained bitterly, and the Reagan administration reversed this policy after it came into office in 1981. By then, however, because of the adverse economics, there was no longer any industrial interest in reprocessing in the United States. In 1993, the Clinton administration reinstated U.S. opposition to reprocessing
and
 Storage of spent fuel is cheaper, safer, and more environmentally benign than reprocessing
My boss (Ph.D. Nuclear Engineering) now says it's the Salt Treaty (he doesn't remember if it was I or II) that banned the reproceesing so that no new bombs would be made.

Recognitions:
 Quote by daveb encev293n5539.pdf"]http://www.princeton.edu/~globsec/publications/pdf/Sciencev293n5539.pdf[/URL] says what I had previously stated and quoted, but says t My boss (Ph.D. Nuclear Engineering) now says it's the Salt Treaty (he doesn't remember if it was I or II) that banned the reproceesing so that no new bombs would be made.
daveb,

First, NONE of the special nuclear material in the USA's nuclear weapons came from commercial
reactors. The USA had special production reactors at Hanford and Savannah River to make
weapons material. The last reactor at Savannah River was shut down in 1988.

The USA HAS made new bombs since ceasing the production of special nuclear material.

New nuclear weapons usually replace older nuclear weapons; and the old weapon can be dismantled
as a source of nuclear material. The more advanced new nuclear weapon usually needs less
special nuclear material than the old ones it replaces.

So banning commercial reprocessing as a way of preventing new nuclear weapons from being built
is totally ineffective. "Reactor grade" Plutonium from commercial reactors is NOT the type of
material weapons designers like to use. Additionally, the USA has all the weapons grade Plutonium
that it needs for new nuclear weapons.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist